Thursday, March 6, 2014

Choose the novel: In Times of Cold Rain

I'm running a kind of survey. As reader, you get to decide which novel I write this year. I'll be posting six or seven openings to stories I kind've want to tell, and whichever one earns the most comments, I'll be finishing it, right here. These first posts are a three-pack, but I'll upload the next three or four over the next few days. Of Hidden Shadows is the kind of high fantasy epic with the largest stakes and enough characters to staff a Super Bowl. In Times of Cold Rain is different. Heavily reminiscent of black and white noir, this story explores a number of psychological mysteries to go along with it's central whodunit. 

In Times of Cold Rain

The room was filled with the dank smell of cat piss, flat beer, and worn-out pussy.  The kind of beer that costs less for a six-pack than a tank of gas; the kind of pussy that makes you want to get tested, even just smelling it.  “Strip club pussy,” you might call it, if you were the kind of person honest enough to say it. Truthfully, the room didn’t look anything like it smelled.  Egyptian cotton sheets, full-length mirrors, and a lakefront view from huge bay windows.  That’s all any of them noticed.  Not the stain on the carpet, or on the comforter.  Not the half-empty packs of cigarettes strewn about the desk.  Because, the truth is, underneath all of the rancid odors lingered a sweeter smell.  For most of them, it lingered about a foot and a half above everything.  The crisp, emerald scent of money was and always will be the greatest aphrodisiac of them all.
                Until it runs out.
                The money running out explains why the packs are half-empty and why the beer is so cheap, and why the pussy hadn’t showered in a few days.  It’s hard work being rich, but it beats waking up hung-over and scratching your balls wondering if this particular itch is going to go away any time soon.
                “Damn it,” he muttered, rolling over to switch off the alarm that buzzed on the night stand.  “Fucking bullshit,” he hissed as he stepped on a beer can trying to get out of bed.  He stumbled to the bathroom, shielding his eyes from the light sweeping in the hotel window.  It didn’t burn, that was something.  He shook himself and washed his hands.  He started the shower.
                “What are you doing, John?”
                “Jesus fuck, woman,” he howled, slipping on the tile and catching himself on the marble counter.  “What are you still doing here?”
                He vaguely recognized her from the coffee shop the night before.  He had been sitting alone in the corner, trying to be subtle and convey a sense of desperate longing, a wounded soul in need of commiseration.  Apparently, he had been successful.
                “You fucking drove me here, dicksore,” she said, pushing him out of the way and pulling her hair back in front of the mirror.  “How was I supposed to leave?”
                “A cab?” he volunteered, then winced as she punched his shoulder.
                “You’re pathetic,” she said as she splashed water on her face, further smearing the heavy eye-shadow she had pasted on the night before, unsubtly trying to convey the sense of a desperate soul longing to get laid. 
                “I’m pathetic?  You’re the pathetic one, sweetheart,” he said, not awake enough to be aware of sounding like a fourth grader on the playground.  He pushed her to the side with his hip, and she grabbed him, pushing him back against the sink.
                “Fuck you,” she said, glaring at him.
                He held his hands up in mock surrender.
                She wrapped her hand around him through his boxers.  “You don’t remember?”
                He pushed her away.  “I really don’t,” he said, as he pulled his underwear off and stepped in the shower.
                “Aren’t you going to invite me in?”
                “No,” he said, “but if you’re lucky, I’ll try and leave some hot water for you.”
                As he slicked his hair back he heard the bathroom door slam.  After a few minutes, he thought he heard the door to the room snap back against the deadbolt, and a muffled “fuck” before the door slammed again.
                His cat meowed through the door to the bathroom. 
                “Sorry, buddy, she’s not mad at you.  I don’t think,” he gargled through the running water. 
                The squealing tires he could hear through the walls and the rush of water.  “Fuck!”
                He snapped off the flow and narrowly avoided slipping on the tile again, grabbing a towel and rushing out the door.  He took the stairs three at a time, and made it to the side entrance in time to see his only slightly-used BMW peel off down the hill away from the hotel.
                “Oh, shit,” he mumbled as he trudged back up to his room only to find the door locked securely behind him and his cat scratching mournfully trying to get back in.  “Well, buddy, you’ll have to tell me if that was worth it.”
                Somehow, as he walked down the hallway of the hotel towards the front desk with a few of his neighbors peering out at him in his towel, he didn’t think so.

Chapter 1

                “Where the fuck were you, man, your boss is going ape-shit right now, she’s called me probably six times hounding me about the labor reports and I’m running out of clever things to say.”
                “Now there you go, exaggerating again.  If you’ve run out of the clever things to say, it’s only been, what, two or maybe three phone calls?”  He razzed his assistant and tapped him on the forehead.  “I lost my keys.”
                “Well, fuck, you could have called.”
                He muttered under his breath, his cell phone had been in the car.  “Sorry, I forgot.”
                His assistant handed him the stack of daily updates, a sheaf of papers thick enough to be Stephen King’s next manuscript. 
                “What the fuck am I supposed to do with all of this?  You can’t send emails?”  he picked up the pace, trying to make it to the back room that served as his office before anyone else noticed him and thought to wonder why he was still wearing sunglasses and avoiding the brighter lit areas.
                His assistant just shrugged and handed him a smaller stack of sticky-notes.  “Here’s your messages, and the conference call starts in fifteen minutes.  Apparently Sonny-Boy is on the rag again.”
                A light bulb went off in his head:  that was what that fucking smell had been earlier.  Stupid chick had her period.  His scowl deepened and he wiped his lips, certain he could taste a little of that menstrual blood.  He fought back the urge to gag.
                He handed the bigger stack of papers back to his assistant and shuffled through his messages.
                “Erin called?  God damn it, Josh, this should have been the first fucking piece of paper you handed me.  When’s the damn conference call?” he said, collapsing into the chair behind his desk.
                “Fifteen—make that thirteen minutes from now,” Josh offered.
                “You better hope I finish this call in ten, then,” he said, “now, tits or gee tee eff oh.”
                He picked up the phone to dial Erin’s number, and gestured again for Josh to shut the door after he left.
                “Twelve minutes, boss man,” Josh said, holding up his hands with his fingers outspread.
                “That’s ten, fucking idiot,” he said and swiveled around to face the parking garage that lurked outside his office window.
                Josh shut the door and stepped out into the main office area, muttering “dick” under his breath.
                “I heard that,” John said from inside his office.  “Bring me some coffee, too, you insubordinate fuck.”
                “Sure thing, asshole,” Josh mumbled again, heading to the break room.

*  *  *

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